I am coming to realise the differences between a sound of monotony and one of nuance often lies in the use of tension and release.
First it is important to think about what tension might mean. Tension and release are naturally found in the keys and textures of the music. There are moments in music of obvious tension and freedom and release. The way in which a composer modulates, or how they create a certain emotion, determines the tension we create.
We can only practice how we use tension and release if we are aware of how we fit in the music. In sonata playing, this means having a good knowledge of the piano part and the key structure of the music. This has always freaked me out a bit! Key’s have always felt like a foreign field to me, but I’m beginning to understand keys as colours (and not stiff academia!) and through this understand how I create sounds. For example, if I have a sustained note I am struggling with, by studying the score I can know whether, in context, it is a note of ease, beauty and freedom or conversely one of conflict and tension by looking at the harmony and texture. Once I am aware of the context of phrases and notes, I can begin to explore different colours on my instrument.
Tension and release can also be created by a knowledge of how to use silences and forming theories as to why a composer have chosen the silences. A great exponent of this is Beethoven. Beethoven has a way of taking us to a different land altogether through is silences. His climaxes often culminate in a huge general pause, before taking us to a completely different environment. In this context, the silence is what creates the tension but is important that we actually learn to ‘play’ a tense silence, a comical silence and a relieving silence.
Much of our use of tension and release comes naturally to us as we respond to the music in the moment, but taking it a step further by looking into the score can bring sounds to a different level of understanding.